: Israel’s leaders are pictured as shepherds who abuse their sheep – with Jesus as our good Shepherd, we need to consider how we can be different, whilst finding rest in the restoration of Christ if we have experienced the pain of abuse.
2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
The shepherds who feed themselves, instead of their sheep. Who kill and neglect and abuse the ones who depend upon them. It’s a horrifying indictment. And, just as it does when we see or hear of abuse in the church, it’s meant to hit us in the guts.
Something that grips me about this passage is how clear it is. Life is so often full of complexity – full of greys. But there are no greys here. This is black and white. This is abuse. It is manipulative, it is wicked, and it is sin. Israel’s leaders were using their positions of power to exploit, damage, and neglect the very ones for whom they’re supposed to care. In these leaders, we see the passive abuse of neglect. The active abuse of killing, injuring, and taking what wasn’t theirs to have. And the distressing result is that their people were scattered – for they no longer had a shepherd. They were lost. A sobering picture is one of the eternal tragedy which is sometimes heaped upon the earthly injuries and pain of abuse victims within the church – those who end up walking away even from God because of what they have suffered.
It’s also clear that this cannot remain in the shadows. Their abuse is exposed for what it is, as God shines his holy spotlight of justice upon their grim darkness… as his prophet Ezekiel calls out these leaders, even at his own risk. And there will be justice. For God said, “I am against the shepherds” – and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)
We need to be gripped by the horror of abuse – especially by those in positions of power. We need the courage to bring it into the light when we discover it. It also strikes me that, in some pocket of our lives, almost all of us are leaders of some sort – perhaps in our job, as a mum/dad/grandparent/aunt/uncle/older sibling, as a small group leader, a teacher of others – even as an influential friend. We need to face the serious question: Am I honouring that responsibility given to me under God – to care and protect others? To love and defend? To build up, encourage, and help them to flourish?
Finally – if you have experienced abuse, or knows and loves someone who has… this evil isn’t the end of the story. God himself said that he would be the Shepherd of the abused – to gather and protect… and give them rest, nourishment, and all they need. He sent his Son, Jesus – the good Shepherd, who was abused and killed by Israel’s leaders so we might be rescued and restored. (John 10) He knows. And he cares deeply about his people who face or have faced abuse. He loves them, he will restore them and, whilst we in our limited humanness may not yet understand how – he will bring all things to justice.
Head: What is convicting or comforting you from this story today?
Heart: Re-read verses 15-16. (Optional: also read Psalm 23). What comfort is there for your heart today?
Hands: Do you know anyone who could use some words of comfort and encouragement? Does anyone need some gentle but honest questions asked?
Prayer: My Father, thank you that you are my shepherd, in Christ. Thank you that you love and defend the weak, and bring all things to justice. Lord, expose the darkness in my heart, and grant me the courage to expose it where I find it. Comfort me with your presence and goodness today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A song to listen to: Shepherd